My short review of the book published online in One Hundred Words Magazine [no longer available]:-
For anyone interested in Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic art-house film ‘Stalker’, Geoff Dyer’s fascinating book ‘Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room’ is a must read.
Dyer takes the reader through the film, scene by scene. It’s a rather meandering kind of journey, perhaps, with numerous interesting digressions en route – the author frequently discussing at some length any subject which the film brings to mind.
This strategy works to a degree, but is undermined by Dyer’s tendency to use an irritatingly flippant tone. Nevertheless, it’s still a book I would recommend to cinema lovers.
As I say, the one thing which doesn’t entirely work for me is Dyer’s ‘tendency to use an irritatingly flippant tone’. However, a number of other reviewers think otherwise. For instance, Killian Fox writing in The Guardian:-
What makes him a pleasure to read, particularly here in the inner sanctum of high cinema, is that he isn’t oppressed by the need to be reverential. On the contrary, he’ll crack as many bad jokes as he can about Stalker’s nagging wife, or the granting of innermost wishes, en route to the transcendent truth. As the Camus quote at the front of the book says: “The best way of talking about what you love is to speak of it lightly.”
Vadim Rizov writing in avclub is also happy with the style of the book:-
[Dryer is] a serious viewer whose lightness of tone shouldn’t be mistaken for glibness.
Whatever my reservations, I would agree with Fox when he says:-
That said, I’m glad he undertook the journey. Even if you have zero desire to experience Tarkovsky’s film first-hand, it’s worth keeping company with Dyer for the tangents it sends him off on: an explanation of why the horror film Antichrist, which Lars von Trier dedicated to Tarkovsky, is “nonsense”; or the funny and poignant footnote about how Natascha McElhone in the remake of Solaris looked uncannily, at the time of its release, like Dyer’s wife.
But if you’ve never seen Stalker, I’d urge you to watch it for the final scene alone. I agree with Dyer that it brings us to “a realm of loveliness unmatched anywhere else in cinema”. It casts a miraculous light back across the rest of the film and makes the effort of scaling this great rock of cinematic art utterly worthwhile.